Born October 1, 1946, in Wolverhampton, England; Education: Studied with bassist James E. Merrit and at Guildhall School of Music. Addresses: Home--New York City, NY; Management--Vision Artist Management and Consultation, contact: Louise Holland; Booking--Sala Enterprises, contact: Anna Sala, 805 Seventh Ave., Ste. 1100, New York City, NY 10019, phone:; Record company--ECM, 1540 Broadway, 40th flr., New York City, NY 10036 Phone: (718) 857-5727; (212) 262-4481 ext. 243; (212) 930-4996 Fax: (718) 623-1404; (212) 397-5973 E-mail: e-mail:; e-mail:; e-mail:

British bassist and cellist Dave Holland established his reputation as a key figure in jazz back in 1968 when he moved to New York City to perform and record with jazz legend Miles Davis and his band. In 1972, Holland became the leader of his own group for the first time and released the stunning Conference of the Birds, considered one of the best works in contemporary jazz. Although Holland continued to record with other jazz musicians and bands, lead and record with his own groups, and release solo albums, he was not able to recapture the intensity of his debut album until 1998's Points of View. In response to the album, Holland received a Grammy Award nomination for best jazz instrumental performance, and Downbeat magazine named him jazz bassist of the year. Dedicating himself to music at a prolific and continuous pace throughout his career, Holland always made certain to share the credit with his collaborators.

Born on October 1, 1946, in Wolverhampton, England, Holland discovered his musical talent at an early age and started out playing the ukelele at age four. At ten years old, Holland started learning the guitar, concentrating on the bass guitar and forming his first band with a group of friends by the age of 13. The group, with Holland performing in public for the first time, played at local clubs and dances. Two years later, now 15 years old, Holland joined another band. When his new group started to perform on a regular basis, he decided to leave school in order to devote himself to a career in music and to expand his ideas on bass guitar. Although he took piano lessons for a short time, throughout his childhood he mostly taught himself how to play the era's popular music from song books and by listening to the radio.

Around this time, Holland discovered jazz music after hearing recordings of Ray Brown and Leroy Vinnegar, two legendary bassists. Inspired by their music, Holland purchased his first double bass and practiced along with the records. Continuing to play popular tunes as a bass guitarist, he also frequented jazz clubs with his double bass, often sitting in on stage with other local jazz musicians. At the age of 17, in the summer of 1963, Holland accepted an offer to play double bass with a dance band working at a resort for the season, leaving his bass guitar work behind. When his stint for the summer ended, he joined a big band accompanying singer Johnny Ray for a short tour, then moved to London to play music in a restaurant.

This move would change Holland's musical direction for the remainder of his career, as he immediately started studying with James E. Merritt, at the time the principal bassist for the London Philharmonic Orchestra. Merrit, also a teacher at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, convinced Holland in the spring of 1964 to apply to Guildhall's three-year program. After taking the entrance exam and receiving a full scholarship, Holland started attending the school that fall. Holland studied with intensity, and by his second year, he earned the position of principal bassist with the school's orchestra. In the meantime, Holland began to work with other jazz artists around London, performing first with bands that played King Oliver, New Orleans style jazz and Louis Armstrong. Before long, he could adapt to ensembles playing every jazz style from swing to modern.

Influenced by the innovations of contemporary jazz, Holland in 1966 began playing with other artists who held similar interests like multi-instrumentalist John Surman, John McLaughlin, Evan Parker, Kenny Wheeler, John Taylor, Chris MacGregor, and others. His influences during this time included well-known jazz bassists such as Charles Mingus, Scott LaFaro, Jimmy Garrison, Ron Carter, and Gary Peacock, while his studies in school introduced him to contemporary composers, including the works of Bela Bartók. Concurrently, Holland played with various chamber orchestras and started to record music for film, television, and radio.

Debut Album as a Bandleader

Holland's career continued to escalate, and 1967 saw him on stage with such jazz greats as Coleman Hawkins, Ben Webster, and Joe Henderson. One night in July of 1968, Miles Davis came to Ronnie Scott's, a well-known jazz club in London where Holland often appeared. When Davis heard him play, he asked Holland to join his band. Within two weeks of that night, Holland moved to New York City and spent two years touring and recording with Davis, as well as performing with other musicians within New York's jazz community. He appeared on a number of Davis's albums, including Filles de Kilimanjaro, released September 1968, In a Silent Way, released February 1969, and Bitches Brew, released August 1969.

In late 1970, Holland left Davis's group to form a band called Circle with Chick Corea, Anthony Braxton, and Barry Altschul. In Circle, Holland played both cello and bass. The group broke up after just one year together, and Holland, in early 1972, took a job playing with Stan Getz and his band. Around this time, he worked briefly with Thelonious Monk, began a musical relationship with Sam Rivers, and worked as a guest teacher at the Creative Music Studio in Woodstock, New York. The same year also marked Holland's first recorded album as a bandleader with the release of Conference of the Birds in November on the ECM label. The title song was inspired by the singing birds outside Holland's London flat, according to the musician, rather than by the classic poem by Attar as some reviewers and critics often suggest. With Braxton and Rivers playing flute and reeds, alongside Altschul on drums and percussion, Holland produced a record that would become a jazz classic.

In 1973, Holland left Getz's group to focus on performing with Braxton, as well as with Rivers. Two years later, in 1975, he participated in forming a trio named Gateway with guitarist John Abercrombie and drummer Jack DeJohnette, a fellow member of Davis's group; Gateway continued to tour and record together throughout the 1990s. After working with singer Betty Carter for a few months in 1976, Holland spent the remainder of the 1970s playing and recording with Rivers, in addition to releasing a solo bass album entitled Emerald Tears in August of 1977. The record led Holland to hold solo concerts for the first time in his career.

In 1981, Holland left Gateway and Rivers for a time in order to make plans for his own band and released a solo cello album called Life Cycle later that year in November. Although more consistent than his previous solo effort, many critics believed that the album needed further development. Following the completion of Life Cycle, Holland assembled his first full-time band. The original members included Wheeler on trumpet and flügelhorn, Julian Priester on trombone, Steve Coleman on alto saxophone and flute, and Steve Ellington on drums; later members included Marvin "Smitty" Smith, replacing Ellington on drums, and Robin Eubanks, who substituted for Priester on trombone. The group recorded three albums together: Jumpin' In (released in October of 1983), Seeds of Time (released in November of 1984), and the much celebrated The Razor's Edge (released in February of 1987).

After the release of The Razor's Edge and an extensive tour, Holland disbanded the quintet to work with a trio again. In March of 1988, he released Triplicate with DeJohnette and Coleman, then performed and recorded two albums with pianist Hank Jones and others: The Oracle (released in March of 1989) and Lazy Afternoon (released in July of 1989). Later that year, he formed a new quartet with Coleman, Eubanks, and Smith, and in September of 1989, the group released Extensions, a recording voted album of the year by Downbeat magazine.

Taught Others

Since accepting his teaching position with the Creative Music Studio, Holland continued to instruct others throughout the 1980s. He became artistic director of a summer jazz workshop held at the Banff School in Banff, Canada, from 1983 until 1990. He also joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music in Boston, Massachusetts, as a full-time instructor in 1987 and taught at the school until 1990.

During 1990, Holland toured worldwide with DeJohnette's group called Parallel Realities. The group--also featuring pianist/keyboardist Herbie Hancock and guitarist Pat Metheny--appeared on a Grammy nominated album, Metheny and Roy Haynes's Question and Answer. In 1992, Holland appeared as a regular with Hancock's trio and performed on Joe Henderson's So Near, So Far, an album that won a Grammy Award. Holland then spent 1993 touring Europe to give solo concerts, recording his second solo bass album entitled One's All, and later touring with a project also consisting of Carter, Geri Allen, and DeJohnette. The musicians released a live recording of a concert held at the Royal Festival Hall in London called Feed the Fire in 1994.

Early that same year, Holland brought together a new quartet, this time made up of vibraphonist and composer Steve Nelson, saxophonist Eric Person, and drummer Gene Jackson. During the summer of 1994, Holland toured with Gateway and recorded an album with the trio in December under the title Homecoming, released by ECM. In the meantime, he toured Europe and the United States with his new quartet. Then in early 1995, they recorded Dream of the Elders. A subtle yet powerful album, Ken Micalleff in Audio described the work as "a sublime example of Holland as bandleader, composer and bassist.... another peak in the bass legend's mountain of music." Subsequently, Holland toured with his own quartet and as a member of Hancock's group through the end of the year.

Formed New Quintet

1996 proved a busy year for Holland, as he continued to tour as a part of Hancock's quartet, again with Gateway, and with his own band. Active in the studio as well, Holland participated in the recording of three Grammy-nominated albums, including saxophonist Michael Brecker's Tales from the Hudson, Hancock's The New Standard, and pianist Billy Child's The Child Within.

In 1997, the musician decided to disband his previous group, forming another quintet composed of alto saxophonist Steve Wilson (replaced by Chris Potter in June of 1998), Eubanks, Nelson, and drummer Billy Kilson. After performing on stage together, the group headed for the studio to record the Grammy-nominated album Points of View, released in March in Europe and in September in the United States in 1998. The critically well-received effort led Downbeat in 1999 to award Holland for a second time, this time by naming him 1998's acoustic bassist of the year.

In addition to performing with his quintet in 1998, Holland toured with Hancock's The New Standard group, as well as with Brecker's Tales from the Hudson lineup and a Porgy and Bess (the musical) project headed by Henderson, who Holland often performed with earlier in his career. His other live performances included playing with Gateway, as a member of Wheeler's group, in a duo with guitarist Jim Hall, and in a trio with Anouar Brahem and Surman. The same year, Holland appeared on various releases by other artists, two of which included saxophone player Joe Lovano's Trio Fascination and vibraphone player Gary Burton's Like Minds. Performing almost non-stop with his quintet and others the following year, Holland planned to continue his busy pace. By the end of 1999, Holland had already recorded with albums with numerous artists such as vocalist Cassandra Wilson, saxophonist Charles Lloyd, vocalist Dominique Eade, and saxophonist Andy Middleton. In March of 2000, Holland scheduled a series of trio concerts also featuring Brahem and Surman.

by Laura Hightower

Dave Holland's Career

Joined first jazz band, 1963; moved to New York City and played with Miles Davis, 1968; released first album as bandleader, Conference of the Birds, 1972; forms group called Gateway, 1975; released first solo bass album, Emerald Tears, 1977; released first solo cello album, Life Cycle, 1981; released The Razor's Edge as bandleader of his own quintet, 1987; formed a new quartet, released Extensions, 1989; released Dreams of the Elders with subsequent quartet, 1995, followed by Points of View, 1998; all released on ECM label.

Dave Holland's Awards

Downbeat magazine's 1989 album of the year for Extensions; Downbeat magazine's 1998 acoustic bassist of the year.

Famous Works

Recent Updates

February 8, 2006: Holland's group, the Dave Holland Big Band, won the Grammy Award for best large jazz ensemble album for Overtime. Source:,, February 9, 2006.

Further Reading



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